Get your jokes in now
Tim Keown [ARCHIVE]
ESPN The Magazine
March 26, 2011
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Subscribe to a service and start following a squad halfway around the country. Who wants to wait? Waiting is old-school, pre-Internet, pre-free agency, prehistoric. In baseball and in life, waiting is for people who don't have money or credit or guts. And nobody -- nobody -- wants to pay for the right to be patient.

But that's what Dayton Moore sells. He sells 2012 or 2103 and definitely 2014. He sells the idea that his garage band is starting to sound like something you'll want to brag about discovering someday. As the corporate face of the franchise, he speaks a lot in public, and his spiel is nothing new. He shrugs and says, "I give the same speech they've been hearing for a long time. It all comes down to whether we can do it on the field."

In 12 years with the Atlanta Braves, Moore developed the reputation of a farm-system guru, and that got him the job in Kansas City. He's a good salesman, a youthful 44-year-old who remembers names and talks the game with the exuberance of a first-year scout. Some cynics -- "cynic" and "Royals fan" have practically become synonymous -- will concede that Moore can develop a farm system, but they ask, can he build a major league contender? The acquisitions he's made at the top level -- some, admittedly, simply as placeholders until the boy band arrives -- have been less than inspiring. What happens when he has to fill in around the prospects?

The question is legitimate. Moore's drafting has been impeccable, and he acquired three solid-to-great prospects (pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress, outfielder Lorenzo Cain) for ace Zack Greinke in a December trade with Milwaukee. But other decisions are less defensible. Following the recent free agent signings of Pedro Feliz and Jeff Francoeur and the Greinke-trade acquisition of Alcides Escobar -- owners of three of the worst on-base percentages in baseball last season -- one Royals blogger surmised that Moore must be counterintuitively turning the Moneyball concepts on their heads. With new metrics accentuating the importance of stats such as WAR and VORP, it was jokingly suggested that the Royals have blazed their own path by stockpiling players with low OBPs.

Again, Moore shrugs. He runs a small-market team that must build from within and use closeout spackle to patch the holes. "I've put myself out there trying to articulate our message," he says. "Kansas City is a unique place. Everyone's passionate about the Royals. People are frustrated, and often it's directed at the GM. I can live with that."

Bloggers, columnists and some Royals fans have a good time mocking Moore's mantra -- "Trust the process" -- but it's clear he trusts it, even if they don't. He inherited an organization that was terrible on the field and dreadful in the farm system, a remarkable feat of incompetence for a franchise that consistently drafted as high as Kansas City has in the past 20 years.

"I remember when it was easy to be a Royals fan," says Royals Authority blogger Clark Fosler. Small market or no, the Royals of the 1970s and '80s were baseball's archetypal franchise, developing talent, winning pennants, opening the game's first baseball academy. Now being a Royals fan is like standing on the side of the mountain rooting for Sisyphus -- or Alex Gordon -- to push the rock. It takes not only patience but willful optimism and a suspension of disbelief. Asked what it's like inside the mind of a Royals fan, Fosler sighs and says, "It can be a dark, dark place."

The problem, as Moore knows all too well, is that the future has been pitched to KC fans like a bad infomercial. As Royals Review blogger Will McDonald says, "It's hard to embrace a team that's been rebuilding since the mid-'90s. The casual fan doesn't buy it, but the people who know the Hosmers and Moustakases understand this is a special group."

The temptation might have been to draft the players closest to the majors, college pitchers and hitters who might sell a few tickets within a year of their signing. Instead, Moore drafted primarily big-upside high school players, and ownership green-lit large bonuses (Hosmer: $6 million; Moustakas: $4 million). It might take them a little longer to make it to the bigs, but Moore believes they'll be better prepared when they do. (The Royals have the second-youngest 40-man roster in the majors, behind Cleveland's, and most of their highly touted young players aren't yet on it.)

Moore recites history like a professor: The Yankees committed to their farm system in 1989 and won a title by '96; the Twins did the same in '94 and were contenders by 2001. Since Moore took over in 2006, his timetable has the Royals in the running by 2013.

He pilots the baseball operation like a college coach, sitting down in living rooms with potential top picks, selling his organization as family-first, telling everyone from the Rookie League backup catcher to Billy Butler that his door is always open. Every member of the boy band is already on a first-name basis with Moore. "A lot of people ask if it's hard to be patient," Moustakas says. "It is, because you want to get to the big leagues and stay in the big leagues. But whenever Dayton says I'm ready, I'll be ready. We're all on board with Dayton's plan."

Moustakas and the rest of the boy-band Royals trust the man and the process.

What other multimillion-dollar operation hinges its success on a group of employees between the ages of 19 and 22? It's like turning over the day-to-day of General Motors to the boys at the local frat house.

There's no way to overstate how much is riding on the boy band, and the organization is taking extraordinary and perhaps unprecedented measures to build a bridge to connect minor league success to big league stardom. In January, the Royals brought nearly two dozen of their top prospects to Kansas City for a five-day symposium on life in the big leagues. They talked about how to deal with the media, about travel and women and autograph hounds and how to pack for a 10-day roadie. What did the kids learn? They learned how a simple daily greeting to a beat writer can bank credit to draw on if times get bad. They learned that many big league clubhouses employ chefs who take your order before the game and have it ready for you when the game is over. Hosmer's eyes widened at this revelation. "To think there are chefs," he says. "That's pretty unbelievable."

They learned that veterans have routines that must be honored. Veterans, even nonstar veterans, take precedence over young players, even star young players. Vets get their choice of seats on flights -- including who sits near them -- so it's best for the young guys to board last to avoid conflict.

And if a young guy wants to take some extra hacks in the cage before a game, he better plan on doing it at least four hours before the first pitch. The veterans will arrive...
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